An investigation into the capture and public display of the Acton Town otter

Hughes, John (2022) An investigation into the capture and public display of the Acton Town otter. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This PhD explores sonic narrative writing as contemporary art practice. It is situated within my immediate work environment: as a Station Supervisor positioned in London Underground stations during the ‘Engineering Hours’ night shift. A strange and little-known part of London Transport history is used as a starting point: the capture and public display of wildlife killed at the time of electrification of the underground railway during its expansion into suburbia at the start of the 20th Century. The PhD consists of 7 sound based narrative compositions, hosted on a dedicated website, and includes a DIY garden on a disused platform at Acton Town underground station. Embracing the materials and territory of my work environment opens up expansive and political possibilities for embedded narrative. Through the performance of a fiction, the research addresses the political realities of a working environment where the loss of jobs and the replacement of the workforce with automation is seen as progress. I employ a DIY punk approach to sound collage, strengthening connections between art-based narrative and experimental music. Adopting a feminist theoretical framework the narrative satirises masculine sensibilities, telling a mix of fantastical, animalistic and homo-social stories, often with a comic and satirical slant, that cross the boundaries of propriety and prescribed outcomes. The particular setting of the research – a nocturnal blue-collar work environment, one closely focussed on surveillance – becomes the experiential basis from which to pervert the conventional role of the uniformed male observer on display in city spaces.

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